When she says her whole house is “kind of like my studio,” artist/educator Edna Patterson-Petty is not exaggerating. A tree stump in the backyard, covered with the tin-can lids she couldn’t bring herself to dispose of, becomes a metal sculpture.
Her bathroom door, a work in progress, is a tissue-paper and magazine-phrase collage, teeming with such affirmations as “Having it All” and “Powered by Prayer.”
Even one of Edna’s children, then nine months pregnant, exhausted and sprawled across the sofa, triggered a brainstorm. Just pull up your shirt and hold that pose, advised Edna, who, with bandage-like tape, made an upper-body cast, which she then painted black, trimmed with beads and hung on the wall. There, it’s yet another treasure, at home with those collected by her husband, Reggie, during his years in Africa.
One of his wife’s most stalwart fans, Reggie is accustomed to finding their stairways newly covered with mosaics, their cabinet doors fronted by sheets of rescued copper.
Not only does Edna buy on the cheap, whether at thrift stores, flea markets or garage sales, but she also happily accepts beads, buttons or whatever from friends. “I’m always trying to find ways to enhance things,” she says.
No doubt, she includes Reggie among her projects. When they met more than two decades ago, he’d had a brain aneurysm, survived a coma several months long and had been given just six months to live.
He was a high-strung, “Type-A personality,” she recalls. “He couldn’t get me to rush with him, so he had to slow down with me.” Likely, that gives him all the more time to admire the ceiling she daubed with three shades of paint, as well as the old chair whose front legs she wrapped in beads, in order to show kids that discards can become sources of beauty, too.
Edna Patterson-Petty and Reggie Petty
Home • East St. Louis
Ages • She’s 67; he’s 77.
Occupations • A multimedia artist and art therapist, she now presents workshops on self-esteem for organizations and companies. Edna’s art quilts have been featured in nearly a dozen books and exhibited from the St. Louis Art Museum to the American Embassy in Pakistan. She’s won numerous honors, including the Grand Center Visionary Award and the NAACP Arts Award. Reggie, now retired and devoted to speaking about and preserving the history of East St. Louis, was a civil rights activist and, on and off from the late 1960s to the ‘80s, director of the Peace Corps in Kenya, Swaziland, Burkina Faso and the Seychelles Islands.
Family • From previous marriages, she has three living children; he also has three. Married to each other for 20 years, they have, between them, 16 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Edna Patterson-Petty’s latest art show, “Generating the Future,” will run Nov. 30 to Jan. 13 in the Millstone Gallery at COCA, 524 Trinity Avenue.
Amy Bertrand is the editor of the Home & Away and the Let’s Eat section of the Post-Dispatch. Follow her at stltoday.com/travelswithamy, @abertrand on Twitter and on Pinterest at pinterest.com/amybertrand.